Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Human Rights here and there

The House of Lords today rejected the claim on the part of 16-year-old schoolgirl that her human rights had been infringed by the local high school's ban on the jilbab.

Madeleine Bunting points to the strange contradictions here.

This case was so strongly against Begum. Denbigh High School's behaviour was exemplary; they had consulted with the community on a suitable uniform for the 75% of their pupils who are Muslims of a shalwar kameez and head covering. At the time Begum attended the school, the head teacher was a Muslim. Begum knew the uniform requirements when she started. In the end, the law lords argued that there was nothing to stop her changing schools if she wanted to wear the jilbab - faith sometimes might have to cause some inconvenience. She couldn't attend the school of her choosing in the clothes she chose to wear.
What makes the case so intriguing is that Begum and her brother used Western concepts of individual human rights and choice to fight their case against the school and the local community. Traditionally, Islam has put a strong emphasis on conformity to the community's rulings - the rights of the collective trump those of the individual - but the Begums were turning this on its head to argue against the majority.
I am a little torn here. It is sad that a school should find it necessary to ban particular clothing, but it is, evidently, a cause of dissension and bullying. It puts pressure on others to match the displayed devoutness. This seems a little thing, except for the involvement of Hizb'ut Tahir, whose aim is the establishment of Sharia law and which has a reputation for targeting vulnerable youth. Shabina Begum is an orphan, and thus a valuable tool in a campaign that seeks to push institutions as far as possible towards recognising an extreme Islamic viewpoint. Denbigh High School's reasoned compromised seems a model is civilised behaviour.

And speaking of civilised behaviour, apart from the Council on American Islamic Relations, has any Muslim group either condemned the trial of Abdul Rahman in Afghanistan or at least asked for clemency? Any European group that is so quick to call on the state to protect their human rights?

No comments: